MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Weather is not the fighter pilot’s friend at this northern Japan base.

Wind, rain, snow, sea fog — all help Misawa have the Pacific Air Forces’ highest annual weather attrition rate for training sorties, base officials said.

This winter has been no different.

“Last year was pretty mild. We did well with our flying hour program,” said Lt. Col. Hugh Hanlon, 13th Fighter Squadron commander. “I don’t think we’ve been so lucky this year.”

Inexperienced pilots — those with fewer than 500 flying hours — must complete 10 training sorties a month, or 29 in 90 days, to maintain mission- ready status. For experienced pilots, it’s eight flights a month or 24 over 90 days.

Those requirements, Hanlon said, are based in part on “how much you can fly the jets without breaking them and balancing that with pilot readiness. That’s a challenge, especially in bad-weather months.”

February typically is one of the worst months at Misawa. Snow bands forming over the Sea of Japan frequently blow across the area, at times reducing visibility to near zero. Average attrition for training sorties in February is about 22 percent, Hanlon said. So far this month, it’s up to 42 percent. Weather forces are scrubbing four of every 10 sorties planned, he said.

Snow isn’t the only weather villain: Ocean waves higher than 10 feet or winds over the water greater than 25 knots (about 29 mph) also stop flights. Hanlon said those conditions would make it extremely dangerous should a pilot have to eject by parachute from the single-engine F-16.

Misawa is “probably one of the most volatile, austere and unpredictable flying environments in the entire Air Force,” Hanlon said.

To stay ahead of the curve, both the 13th and 14th fighter squadrons at Misawa must maximize training opportunities and meticulously plan ahead, he said.

“It’s almost an art,” he said. “You can’t be reactive. You have to look three and four months out,” factoring in leave, temporary duty for schooling, baby leave and weather attrition “to figure out what your strategy is to keeping guys combat-mission ready.”

Meeting flying-hour requirements has been even more challenging this year with Misawa’s F-16s receiving extensive high- tech upgrades through the Common Configuration Implementation Program, Hanlon said. Currently about a fourth of the fighter fleet is at Hill Air Force Base depot in Utah for the retrofit, leaving fewer planes available for training at Misawa.

Pilots sometimes fall below the required training threshold, Hanlon said, but squadrons find ways to get the job done. For example, squadrons seek training opportunities away from home base. This week, Misawa deployed 12 F-16s to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., for Red Flag, a combat-training exercise involving U.S. and allied forces on Nellis’ bombing and gunnery ranges, according to Misawa base officials.

And sometimes, Misawa’s pilots simply fly in less than ideal weather.

Looking at a snow shower moving in Wednesday morning, Hanlon mentioned a South Carolina Air Force base. “Shaw probably would not be flying right now,” he said. “We’re flying.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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